Music Mo'nday: Dark Parts with Perfume Genius
Rob chats with Mike Hadreas about drugs, Whitney, and more.
By Rob Cohen, 12:21PM, Mon. Mar. 26, 2012
In this age of artifice, honesty in art can be elusive. Music and messages go through so many channels that you rarely get anything as pure as the music of Perfume Genius. It turns out the genius behind Genius is as refreshingly candid over the phone as on record.
Mike Hadreas exploded in 2010 with his haunting, homoerotic "Mr. Peterson." I instantly fell in love with his homemade queer hymns. Two years later, he is back with a bold, triumphant new album, Put Your Back N 2 It, and a tour which hits Austin on Tuesday at Lambert's.
Over the phone while in his tour van in L.A., we gossiped like old friends over Whitney Houston, drugs, and much more.
Austin Chronicle: So I've been listening to the record a lot. You might find this weird but listening to it made me think about Whitney Houston. Almost as if you were singing for her ghost.
Perfume Genius: Really? (Laughs) I'll take that. For and about her.
Austin Chronicle: Are you a fan?
Perfume Genius: How could you not be, really?
AC: Do you like pop music?
PG: Oh yeah. You know, I like all the ladies. I can't help it.
AC: Where does your album title come from?
PG: That was one of the first songs I wrote for the album. I knew I wanted to sing that line in a very serious way (laughs). After the album was done, it just became the title. A lot of people hate the album title. And my band name. I don't know, I didn't think about it too much. I like that it could be sexual or nasty or tough or goofy.
AC: It could be a Whitney song.
PG: Yes, for Whitney's Ghost.
AC: They're saying she died from drowning.
PG: She died from drugs; let's not play a game.
AC: Speaking of drugs, how do you look back at your sordid past?
PG: It would have been nice to have this kind of purpose that I feel today 10 years ago, but I'm able to be sane you know? It's helpful to think that I'm more appreciative of good things because I know the opposite. It doesn't really go away, either. It is not like you just get past it then you're done. It's always be there. It's not like drugs just go away. And I'm just hyper aware. I can see them everywhere. I have like an eagle-eye for babies passing from hand to hand. Now I can see it happen and still finish my Diet Coke but before I would see people passing stuff around from across the room and I'd be like, "I got to go!"
AC: Getting back to your album, it sounds a lot bigger and bolder.
PG: Yes, I wanted it to be, even if I didn't feel that way all the time. I tried to step it up.
AC: How did music become more than just a hobby for you?
PG: It just kind of happened. I went to art school in Seattle and I always thought I'd end up painting or drawing, because that's what I'd done my whole life, but I wanted to make music the most. I had always dreamed and wished I could sing and make songs, but I just, I don't know, couldn't do it. Then after I got sober, living with my mom, all I was doing for a while was playing video games from when I woke up to when I went to bed. One day I just shut it off. My mom was out of town, and I decided that I would make a song on my computer, and I'm not going to give myself shit about it, I'm just going to finish it. Then I did it, and I really liked it. I felt kind of embarrassed and shy about some parts of it, but it just felt really good. I just felt a bunch of things click, and I just started doing it all the time. I'm not really sure why it took me so long.
AC: How did you get involved with Matador Records?
PG: In a lot of ways I just really lucked out with how everything went after I started making music. When I put my songs on MySpace, Turnstile Records contacted me and I flew out to meet them. I was so excited. They signed me before I had made an album, or played a show, or anything. Turnstile sent them my album and Chris Lombardi, I met him I don't know. It was all very exciting to me 'cause I had known about that label since I was a kid. Like a dream. Like a dream come true.
AC: Do you look in the mirror and think "I Did It?"
PG: Hell, no!
PG: I wish! If I said that why would I ever do anything else? If I just sit back and congratulate myself too much I'm just going to eat in a dark room until I die. My favorite thing to do (laughs). You know, I'm proud of everything, but I don't know, I'm just still kind of a mess.